Doctoral Dissertation: Maurer: Growing Change? Community Gardens and Urban Citizenship in Southeast Michigan

Grants and Contracts Details


Once known as the "arsenal of democracy" for its role in WWII manufacturing and building the American middle class, prevalent images of Detroit and the surrounding region of Southeast Michigan now feature abandoned lots, crumbling infrastructure, and broke municipalities. These images are challenged, however, by the work of Southeast Michiganders to physically transform their cities by turning abandoned lots and unkempt parks in to carefully tended community garden plots. In one of the most racially and socioeconomically divided regions in the US people from all walks of life engage in these everyday acts of producing food and green space. We must pay attention, however, to the different motivations and ideas about community and urban life among these gardeners. Differences in class and racial identities impact how people define community and construct or use urban space. While diverse participation in community gardening may generate more inclusive involvement in local urban rebuilding efforts, it may also produce socially and spatially divergent forms of community gardening based on racial and class differences. A better understanding of how the collective efforts of ordinary people to transform their urban environments shape these processes of social and spatial production is needed. Thus my project investigates the ways a diverse group of Southeast Michiganders in a small city within the region creates urban space and communities through gardening. Building on research regarding recent political economic changes, the politics of urban space, the production of social and spatial inequalities, and the politics of alternative agrifood movements, I ask how community gardeners' enactments of urban citizenship - a claim or enactment of the right to be in the city, receive basic services, and pursue the well-being of themselves and others - shape, and are shaped by, social and spatial inequalities. In this project I employ a set of ethnographic methods, including surveys, interviews, site maps, and participant observation to identify who participates in community gardening, what their motivations for and perceived outcomes from gardening are, examine how gardeners organize and use urban space, and identify what community-based activities gardeners' participate in, both within and outside of the gardens. Results from this study will contribute to current anthropological and social science research on deindustrialization and neoliberalism, urban space and social protest, and alternative agrifood movements, and will assist the efforts of community gardeners, urban planners, and alternative agrifood activists to transform their urban environments in the US and beyond through socially inclusive strategies.
Effective start/end date6/1/1411/30/15


  • National Science Foundation: $11,385.00


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